Here’s the deal… Growing as an artist means challenging yourself, which is sometimes very uncomfortable. But we’ve already done that to some extent just to get where we are, so it shouldn’t be anything new moving forward. And you know you have to put effort in to get reward out. The same goes when asking for other people’s opinions.
When you post an image for critique, you should do so with the knowledge that you have already pushed yourself to put words around your thoughts; you described the image to yourself at some level. So if you haven’t actually stopped to think about your image and produce some words or phrases about it, what makes you think you’ll get any satisfactory responses from your peers?
Giving a critique takes effort (useful critiques, anyway), so you should put some work into preparing for the possible responses. That means considering your intent for the piece you share as well as for the feedback you’ll get. Give your peers something to go on by asking directed questions.
If you are not confident that you are done, take a step back and think about some common art rules that might apply. Ask yourself whether you intend to stick to or break that rule. Or think about the story your piece could tell – does the composition help the viewer understand that story? Perhaps you shot an abstract that demonstrates a specific word or idea, and you aren’t sure if that idea comes across.
So when you get to posting that image, tell us what went on in your head to that point. What did you intend? What excites you about it, and what do you feel might need work? Write your questions for others that helps them understand what you are unsure about.
If you post and ask for opinions, you’ll get them. They will be filtered through our own view of what should and shouldn’t be in a given work, and most of the time we will all default to commonly accepted art rules. But here’s the thing – you can look those up yourself. What you really want from us is the stuff you can’t look up. Ask if we think you met your stated goal, or tell us about the challenge you faced in crafting the image. Maybe you just snapped one off and got lucky, but after the fact you see something special and want to find out if others see the same thing.
You see, when you just toss something out there and ask “What do you think?”, you have no way of knowing exactly what will come back. And if you aren’t prepared for the answers, how will you use them to get better? But there’s something even more harsh to consider…
What you post is a part of yourself. It’s your vision, your skill, your story. It’s a bit of you on the screen, exposed to others. Posting open-ended, vague questions are likely to get people challenging all of that and more. You’re an open, large target. And if you weren’t totally confident at the time you posted, things will get much worse as you start to question whether you should be creating art at all. Don’t let others dictate what your art should be. Focus your questions in context and you’ll largely avoid those random shots.
In a group of professional artists, you’ll get very direct answers to direct questions. And even then, keep in mind that pretty much everything is opinion. Take what you need, what makes sense, and toss the rest (at least for the moment). But stick to the intent for your art rather than change your vision based on outside opinions. That’s harder than it sounds.
Some examples might be:
“I tried to use focus to tell the story of how the subject is not easily understood. Do you get that? Would it help to know the title is ‘Complicated’?”
“I’m really working on natural skin tones, but I had a mixed lighting source. How did I do?”
“I want the viewer to center on a single emotion in this piece and I’m not sure if I achieved that. What word comes to mind as you look at it?”
So, in order to get good and useful feedback, you need to ask good and useful questions. Before you post, give yourself time to develop the words. Form your own opinion before asking that of others. Know what you want out of the interaction before you start asking.
Roll up your sleeves and get messy with your art. Dig deep and put words onto your feelings as a way of digging even deeper and going in new directions. Root around in it and come up for air only after you’ve explored everything you can.